Hawaii’s congressional delegation is in the islands this week, and they are talking about sequestration.

Unless Congress acts, deep cuts to the federal budget — especially defense spending — will take effect next month.

Sen. Mazie Hirono took to the airwaves this week to speak about the “hit” Hawaii would take from the automatic across the board budget cuts set to kick in on March 1. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard made much the same argument in a Civil Beat interview.

Now, in a new development, AARP Hawaii is warning about one budget proposal it says would actually hurt military veterans, including an estimated 117,000 living in Hawaii.

The proposal would change the way the cost-of-living adjustment is calculated for veterans compensation and Social Security. Over time, AARP says it would dramatically reduce the benefits veterans receive. Locally, the change could cost vets in Hawaii as much as $101.6 million over a 10-year period.

AARP is due to meet with Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and an aide to Hirono and released a statement opposing the plan.

Hanabusa told Civil Beat that she opposes the new cost of living calculation.

“It does not reflect the real cost of living. It’s a non-starter,” she said.

Representatives for Sens. Brian Schatz and Hirono said they oppose the idea as well.

“I will not support proposals that make devastating cuts to programs like Social Security and benefits for our veterans,” Schatz said in a statement Tuesday evening. “We should be working day and night to protect our kupuna and all veterans, especially those that are disabled.”

AARP advocacy director Steve Tam said in an interview that under the new method, which would calculate cost of living based on a measurement called Chained CPI, a person would collect a total of $8,300 less in Social Security between the ages of 65 and 85.

“This is not a small adjustment. It’s really going to impact the pocketbooks of real people in Hawaii,” said Tan, who noted that the organization had met with an aide to Gabbard — herself a veteran — last week and is trying to schedule a meeting with Sen. Brian Schatz.

However, according to Politico, Chained CPI could help reduce the deficit by $2.4 trillion over the next decade and was included in a new plan released by former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson on Tuesday.

At the same time, hospital CEOs will meet with Hanabusa later this week and are expected to oppose the idea of cutting provider fees to hospitals as part of any budget deal. George Greene, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which represents hospitals, said Medicaid payments only cover 73 percent of the cost of providing treatment to patients. The supplemental provider fee raises that to 80 percent.

Eliminating the fee would force hospitals to reevaluate what services they could provide, Greene. said. Hospitals would also have to try to raise more donations, he said.

Despite those concerns, the focus nationally is on the sequestration cuts, which would trigger $85 billion in across-the-board cuts and lead to as yet unspecified furloughs and job losses in Hawaii’s defense industry.

Obama, according to The Hill, warned yesterday, “If Congress allows this meat cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness.”

In the same vein, Hirono described the cuts on KHON-2 Monday, as “huge meat axe, across-the-board cuts.”

Hanabusa, in an interview, was more tempered, saying she believes a budget deal could be struck to avert sequestration because Republicans and Democrats have an interest in avoiding automatic cuts to defense and non-defense spending.

She said also that even if the cuts do kick in, a budget deal could still be worked out before the impacts are fully felt.

Still, Hanabusa also blamed Republicans, noting they made an unprecedented move, tying making budget reductions to raising the nation’s debt ceiling in 2011. Republicans have said they see the cuts as a way to reducing the nation’s deficit.

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